On Thursday afternoon, the KC Royals finally announced the players they would be inviting to big league camp this February. Pitchers and catchers begin workouts on February 18th and everyone else must be in camp and ready to go on February 20th.
The Royals have invited an extra 16 players.
As expected, the players the Royals signed this offseason to minor league deals that have some big league experience were invited. They include pitchers PJ Walters and Cory Wade, catcher Ramon Hernandez, infielders Jason Donald and Brandon Laird, and outfielder Melky Mesa. Outfielders Gorkys Hernandez and Paulo Orlando were also invited after re-signing with the Royals this offseason.
Every team invites a few extra catchers to spring training to catch all the arms that will be in camp and the Royals are no different. They invited Juan Graterol and Adam Moore, their two remaining upper level catchers in their minor league system. Graterol is an interesting selection mainly because he has been an offensive-minded catcher over the years (he hit .286 in 56 games with Double-A NW Arkansas). However, he committed five errors in 489 chances last season with the Naturals and had four passed balls. Opponents also stole 47 bases with him behind the plate and he threw out 20 would-be base stealers. Moore was in big league camp last year and played pretty well. Unfortunately, he did not carry that over to the regular season, as he hit just .191 with Triple-A Omaha.
Speaking of all those pitchers, the Royals invited seven more than what is already on the 40-man roster (I already mentioned two earlier). The big name is top prospect Kyle Zimmer, who is expected to be given every opportunity to win a spot on the Royals Opening Day roster. I think it is a long shot, considering how long it took him in High-A last year to put it all together (until July) and the fact that his season was ended prematurely for an arm issue. Joining Zimmer as an invitee and at the Rookie Development Camp in Washington DC is fellow right-hander Jason Adam (along with outfielder Lane Adams). Adam has a little extra motivation considering he is a local kid and has watched his prospect status dim a bit over the last year or so. Throwing too many pitches in an outing has been an issue (but not just for him), which means he tends to exit games earlier than many would like. If Adam can stop focusing on the strikeout, get quicker outs, and keep the ball in the ballpark, he should impress this spring.
Those are the two big pitching names invited to camp.
Left-handed reliever Scott Alexander is an interesting invite. He split the 2013 season between three levels (Low-A, High-A, and Double-A) and pitched very well (5-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 75 innings). He did not allow a home run. Alexander was most impressive in Wilmington (I saw him at least once), where he struck out 22 compared to eight walks in 27 innings. If he were to have a good spring training and the Royals were to trade a lefty (ie Tim Collins), Alexander could put himself on the map for a midseason callup.
Right-hander Sugar Ray Marimon is in his second straight big league camp. Unfortunately, he could not follow up his stellar 2012 season in 2013. Everything was high with the Naturals last season. His ERA was 4.31. He lost 14 games. He allowed 26 home runs in 148.1 innings. He also walked 45 (compared to 119 strikeouts). The strikeouts, innings pitched, and homers allowed were all career highs.
To me, Aaron Brooks being invited is intriguing. The innings-eater who is not listed on most prospect rankings had one of the betters seasons in 2013 for a Royals minor league pitcher. He dominated with High-A Wilmington (regularly throwing seven innings a start) and was the first pitcher promoted to Double-A. While he struggled at times with the Naturals, he still gave them innings (which many of their other pitchers did not). Over the last three seasons, the California-native has thrown at least 153.2 innings (160 innings the last two seasons). Combined in 2013, Brooks walked 22 compared to 110 strikeouts.
Brooks was named the Naturals Pitcher of the Year and was honored at Kauffman Stadium late in the season. If Brooks pitches well this spring, he could be in line for a big league spot start in 2014, especially considering his mentality and ability to throw strikes.
The problem with inviting young starting pitchers that most likely do not have a chance at making the big league club out of spring training is that if you cannot give them enough innings in big league camp, they are the first to get sent back to minor league camp. They need to throw in camp so they are stretched out enough for the season.
The other prospect that was invited to camp was right fielder Jorge Bonifacio. It should be a fun camp, as he will get to share it with older brother Emilio. Bonifacio should be the Royals right fielder of the future, so it will be good to get him acclimated to the big leagues now.
Which non-roster invitee do you think has the best shot of making the Royals out of spring training?
*I was surprised that right-handed reliever Spencer Patton was not invited to big league camp. With the season he had, followed up by a dominating run in the Mexican Pacific League this winter, I expected him to at least get a look. I guess he will just have to prove himself again during the season. I will have more on him in the coming weeks.